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THE COMING OF STEAM AND ELECTRICITY
In the fall of 1863, the Federal fleet was blockading the harbour of Charleston, S. C. Included among the
many ships was one of the marvels of that period, the United States battleship Ironsides. Armour-plated and
possessing what was then considered a wonderful equipment of high calibred guns and a remarkably trained
crew, she was the terror of the Confederates. None of their ships could hope to compete with her and the land
batteries of the Southern harbour were powerless to reach her.
[Illustration: © U. & U.
A British Anti-Aircraft Gun.]
During the night of October 5, 1863, the officer of the watch on board the Ironsides, Ensign Howard,
suddenly observed a small object looking somewhat like a pleasure boat, floating close to his own ship.
Before Ensign Howard's order to fire at it could be executed, the Ironsides was shaken from bow to stern, an
immense column of water was thrown up and flooded her deck and engine room, and Ensign Howard fell,
mortally wounded. The little floating object was responsible for all this. It was a Confederate submersible
boat, only fifty feet long and nine feet in diameter, carrying a fifteen-foot spar-torpedo. She had been named
David and the Confederate authorities hoped to do away by means of her with the Goliaths of the Federal
navy. Manned only by five men, under the command of Lieutenant W. T. Glassel, driven by a small engine
and propeller, she had managed to come up unobserved within striking distance of the big battleship.
The attack, however, was unsuccessful. The Ironsides was undamaged. On the other hand the plucky little
David had been disabled to such an extent that her crew had to abandon her and take to the water, allowing
their boat to drift without motive power. Four of them were later picked up. According to an account in
Barnes, Torpedoes and Torpedo Warfare, the engineer, after having been in the water for some time, found
himself near her and succeeded in getting on board. He relighted her fires and navigated his little boat safely
back to Charleston. There she remained, making occasional unsuccessful sallies against the Federal fleet, and
when Charleston was finally occupied by the Federal forces, she was found there.
In spite of this failure the Confederates continued their attempts to break the blockade of their most important
port by submarine devices. A new and somewhat improved David was ordered and built at another port. News
of this somehow reached the Federal Navy Department and was immediately communicated to Vice-Admiral
Dahlgren, in command of the blockading fleet. Despite this warning and instructions to all the officers of the
fleet, the second David succeeded in crossing Charleston bar.
This new boat was a real diving submarine boat and though frequently called David had been christened the
Hundley. It had been built in the shipyards of McClintock & Hundley at Mobile, Alabama, and had been
brought to Charleston by rail. On her trial she proved very clumsy and difficult to manage. For her first trip a
crew of nine men volunteered. Not having any conning tower it was necessary that one of the hatchways
should be left open while the boat travelled on the surface so that the steersman could find his bearings. While
she was on her first trip, the swell from a passing boat engulfed her. Before the hatchway could be closed, she
filled with water. Of course, she sank like a piece of lead and her entire crew, with the exception of the
steersman, was drowned.
In spite of this mishap the Hundley was raised and again put in commission. Lieutenant Payne who had
steered her on her first fatal trip had lost neither his courage nor faith and again assumed command of her.
Soon after she started on her second trip a sudden squall arose. Before the hatchways could be closed, she
again filled with water and sank, drowning all of her crew with the exception of Lieutenant Payne and two of
Undaunted he took her out on a third trip after she had again been raised. Ill luck still pursued her. Off Fort
Sumter she was capsized and this time four of her crew were drowned.
The difficulties encountered in sailing the Hundley on the surface of the water apparently made no difference
when it came to finding new crews for her. By this time, however, the powers that be had become anxious that
their submarine boat should accomplish something against an enemy, instead of drowning only her own men
and it was decided to use her on the next trip in a submerged state. Again Lieutenant Payne was entrusted with
her guidance. Her hatches were closed, her water tanks filled, and she was off for her first dive. Something
went wrong however; either too much water had been put in her tanks or else the steering gear refused to
work. At any rate she hit the muddy bottom with such force that her nose became deeply imbedded and before
she could work herself free her entire crew of eight was suffocated. Lieutenant Payne himself lost his life
which he had risked so valiantly and frequently before.
Once more she was raised and once more volunteers rushed to man her. On the fifth trip, however, the
Hundley, while travelling underwater, became entangled in the anchor chains of a boat she passed and was
held fast so long that her crew of nine were dead when she was finally disentangled and raised.
Thirty-five lives had so far been lost without any actual results having been accomplished. In spite of this a
new crew was found. Her commander, Lieutenant Dixon, was ordered to make an attack against the Federal
fleet immediately, using, however, the boat as a submersible instead of a submarine.
Admiral David Porter in his Naval History of the Civil War described the attack, which was directed against
the U. S. S. Housatonic, one of the newest Federal battleships, as follows:
At about 8.45 P. M., the officer of the deck on board the unfortunate vessel discovered something about one
hundred yards away, moving along the water. It came directly towards the ship, and within two minutes of the
time it was first sighted was alongside. The cable was slipped, the engines backed, and all hands called to
quarters. But it was too late--the torpedo struck the Housatonic just forward of the mainmast, on the starboard
side, on a line with the magazine. The man who steered her (the Hundley) knew where the vital spots of the
steamer were and he did his work well. When the explosion took place the ship trembled all over as if by the
shock of an earthquake, and seemed to be lifted out of the water, and then sank stern foremost, heeling to port
as she went down.
Only a part of the Housatonic's complement was saved. Of the Hundley no trace was discovered and she was
believed to have escaped. Three years later, however, divers who had been sent down to examine the hull of
the Housatonic found the little submarine stuck in the hole made by her attack on the larger ship and inside of
her the bodies of her entire crew.
The submarines and near-submarines built in the United States during the Civil War were remarkable rather
for what they actually accomplished than for what they contributed towards the development of submarine
boats. Perhaps the greatest service which they rendered in the latter direction was that they proved to the
satisfaction of many scientific men that submarine boats really held vast possibilities as instruments of naval
France still retained its lead in furnishing new submarine projects. One of these put forward in 1861 by
Olivier Riou deserves mention because it provided for two boats, one driven by steam and one by electricity.
Both of these submarines were built, but inasmuch as nothing is known of the result of their trials, it is safe to
conclude that neither of them proved of any practical value.
Two years later, in 1863, two other Frenchmen, Captain Bourgeois and M. Brun, built at Rochefort a
submarine 146 feet long and 12 feet in diameter which they called the Plongeur. They fitted it with a
compressed-air engine of eighty horse-power. Extensive trials were made with this boat but resulted only in
the discovery that, though it was possible to sink or rise with a boat of this type without great difficulty, it was
impossible to keep her at an even keel for any length of time.
During the next few years, undoubtedly as a result of the submarine activities during the Civil War, a number
of projects were put forward in the United States, none of which, however, turned out successfully. One of
them, for which a man by the name of Halstead was responsible, was a submarine built for the United States
Navy in 1865. It was not tried out until 1872 and it was not even successful in living up to its wonderful
name, The Intelligent Whale. Its first trial almost resulted in loss of life and was never repeated. In spite of
this, however, the boat was preserved and may still be seen at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In the meantime, an invention had been made by an Austrian artillery officer which before long was to exert a
powerful influence on submarine development, though it was in no sense a submarine boat. The manner in
which the submarines had attacked their opponents during the Civil War suggested to him the need of
improvements in this direction. As a result he conceived a small launch which was to carry the explosive
without any navigators. Before he could carry his plans very far he died. A brother officer in the navy
continued his work and finally interested the manager of an English engineering firm located at Fiume, Mr.
Whitehead. The result of the collaboration of these two men was the Whitehead torpedo. A series of
experiments led to the construction of what was first called a "Submarine Locomotive" torpedo, which not
only contained a sufficient quantity of explosives to destroy large boats, but was also enabled by mechanical
means to propel itself and keep on its course after having been fired. The Austrian Government was the first
one to adopt this new weapon. Whitehead, however, refused to grant a monopoly to the Austrians and in 1870
he sold his manufacturing rights and secret processes to the British Government for a consideration of
Before very long, special boats were built for the purpose of carrying and firing these torpedoes and gradually
every great power developed a separate torpedo flotilla. Hand in hand with this development a large number
of improvements were made on the original torpedo and some of these devices proved of great usefulness in
the development of submarine boats.
The public interest in submarines grew rapidly at this time. Every man who was a boy in 1873, or who had the
spirit of boyhood in him then,--or perhaps now,--will remember the extraordinary piece of literary and
imaginative prophecy achieved by Jules Verne in his novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Little
about the Nautilus that held all readers entranced throughout his story is lacking in the submarines of to-day
except indeed its extreme comfort, even luxury. With those qualities our submarine navigators have to
dispense. But the electric light, as we know it, was unknown in Verne's time yet he installed it in the boat of
his fancy. Our modern internal-combustion engines were barely dreamed of, yet they drove his boat. His
fancy even enabled him to foresee one of the most amazing features of the Lake boat of to-day, namely the
compressed air chamber which opened to the sea still holds the water back, and enables the submarine
navigator clad in a diver's suit to step into the wall of water and prosecute his labors on the bed of the ocean.
Jules Verne even foresaw the callous and inhuman character of the men who command the German
submarines to-day. His Captain Nemo had taken a vow of hate against the world and relentlessly drove the
prow of his steel boat into the hulls of crowded passenger ships, finding his greatest joy in sinking slowly
beside them with the bright glare of his submarine electric lights turned full upon the hapless women and
children over whose sufferings he gloated as they sank. The man who sank the Lusitania could do no more.
More and more determined became the attempts to build submarine boats that could sink and rise easily,
navigate safely and quickly, and sustain human beings under the surface of the water for a considerable length
of time. Steam, compressed air, and electricity were called upon to do their share in accomplishing this
desired result. Engineers in every part of the world began to interest themselves in the submarine problem and
as a result submarine boats in numbers were either projected or built between 1875 and 1900.
One of the most persistent workers in this period was a well-known Swedish inventor, Nordenfeldt, who had
established for himself a reputation by inventing a gun which even to-day has lost nothing of its fame. In 1881
he became interested in the work which had been done by an English clergyman named Garret. The latter had
built a submarine boat which he called the Resurgam (I shall rise)--thus neatly combining a sacred promise
with a profane purpose. In 1879 another boat was built by him driven by a steam engine. Nordenfeldt used the
fundamental ideas upon which these two boats were based, added to them some improvements of his own as
well as some devices which had been used by Bushnell, and finally launched in 1886 his first submarine boat.
The government of Greece bought it after some successful trials. Not to be outdone, Greece's old rival,
Turkey, immediately ordered two boats for her own navy. Both of these were much larger than the Greek boat
and by 1887 they had reached Constantinople in sections where they were to be put together. Only one of
them, however, was ever completed. Characteristic Turkish delay intervened. The most typical feature of this
boat was the fact that it carried a torpedo tube for Whitehead torpedoes. On the surface of the water this boat
proved very efficient, but as an underwater boat it was a dismal failure. More than in any other craft that had
ever been built and accepted, the lack of stability was a cause of trouble in the Nordenfeldt II. As soon as any
member of the crew moved from one part of the boat to another, she would dip in the direction in which he
was moving, and everybody, who could not in time take hold of some part of the boat, came sliding and
rolling in the same direction. When finally such a tangle was straightened out, only a few minutes elapsed
before somebody else, moving a few steps, would bring about the same deplorable state of affairs. The
Nordenfeldt II. acted more like a bucking bronco than a self-respecting submarine boat and as a result it
became impossible to find a crew willing to risk their lives in manning her. Before very long she had rusted
and rotted to pieces. In spite of this lack of success, Nordenfeldt built a fourth boat which displayed almost as
many unfortunate features as her predecessors and soon was discarded and forgotten.
[Illustration: Photo by Bain News Service.
An Anti-Aircraft Outpost.]
In the latter part of the nineteenth century the French Government, which for so many years had shown a
strong and continuous interest in the submarine problem, was particularly active. Three different types of
boats built in this period under the auspices and with the assistance of the French Government deserve
particular attention. The first of these was the Gymnote, planned originally by a well-known French engineer,
Dupuy de Lome, whose alert mind also planned an airship and made him a figure in the history of our Panama
Canal. He died, however, before his project could be executed. M. Gustave Zédé, a marine engineer and his
friend, continued his work after modifying some of his plans. The French Minister of Marine of this period,
Admiral Aube who had long been strongly interested in submarines, immediately accepted M. Zédé's design
and ordered the boat to be built. As the earliest of successful submarines she merits description:
[Illustration: © U. & U.
A Coast Defense Anti-Aircraft Gun.]
The Gymnote was built of steel in the shape of a cigar. She was 59 feet long, 5 feet 9 inches beam, and 6 feet
in diameter, just deep enough to allow a man to stand upright in the interior. The motive power was originally
an electro-motor of 55 horse-power, driven from 564 accumulators. It was of extraordinary lightness,
weighing only 4410 pounds, and drove the screw at the rate of two thousand revolutions a minute, giving a
speed of six knots an hour, its radius of action at this speed being thirty-five miles.
Immersion was accomplished by the introduction of water into three reservoirs, placed one forward, one aft,
and one centre. The water was expelled either by means of compressed air or by a rotary pump worked by an
electro-motor. Two horizontal rudders steered the boat in the vertical plane and an ordinary rudder steered in
The Gymnote had her first trial on September 4, 1888, and the Paris Temps described the result in the
following enthusiastic language:
She steered like a fish both as regards direction and depth; she mastered the desired depth with ease and
exactness; at full power she attained the anticipated speed of from nine to ten knots; the lighting was
excellent, there was no difficulty about heating. It was a strange sight to see the vessel skimming along the top
of the water, suddenly give a downward plunge with its snout, and disappear with a shark-like wriggle of its
stern, only to come up again at a distance out and in an unlooked-for direction. A few small matters connected
with the accumulators had to be seen to, but they did not take a month.
Following along the same lines as this boat another boat, considerably larger, was built. Before it was
completed, M. Zédé died and it was decided to name the new boat in his honour. The Gustave Zédé was
launched at Toulon on June 1, 1893; she was 159 feet in length, beam 12 feet 4 inches, and had a total
displacement of 266 tons. Her shell was of "Roma" bronze, a non-magnetic metal, and one that could not be
attacked by sea water.
The motive power was furnished by two independent electro-motors of 360 horse-power each and fed by
accumulators. In order to endow the boat with a wide radius of action a storage battery was provided.
The successive crews of the Gustave Zédé suffered much from the poisonous fumes of the accumulators, and
during the earlier trials all the men on board were ill.
In the bows was a torpedo tube, and an arrangement was used whereby the water that entered the tube after
the discharge of the torpedo was forced out by compressed air. Three Whitehead torpedoes were carried. In
spite of the fact that a horizontal rudder placed at the stern had not proved serviceable on the Gymnote, such a
rudder was fitted in the Gustave Zédé. With this rudder she usually plunged at an angle of about 5°, but on
several occasions she behaved in a very erratic fashion, seesawing up and down, and once when the
Committee of Experts were on board, she proved so capricious, going down at an angle of 30°-35°, often
throwing the poor gentlemen on to the floor, that it was decided to fix a system of six rudders, three on each
Four water tanks were carried, one at each end and two in the middle, and the water was expelled by four
pumps worked by a little electro-motor; these pumps also furnished the air necessary for the crew and for the
discharge of the torpedoes. For underwater vision, an optical tube and a periscope had been provided.
On July 5, 1899, still another submarine boat was launched for the French Navy. She was called the Morse.
She was 118 feet long, 9 feet beam, displaced 146 tons, and was likewise made of "Roma" bronze. The
motive power was electricity and in many other respects she was very similar to the Gustave Zédé,
embodying, however, a number of improvements. M. Calmette, who accompanied the French Minister of War
on the trial trip of the Morse, described his experience in the Paris Figaro as follows:
General André, Dr. Vincent, a naval doctor, and I entered the submarine boat Morse through the narrow
opening in the upper surface of the boat. Our excursion was to begin immediately; in two hours we came to
the surface of the water again three miles to the north to rejoin the Narval. Turning to the crew, every man of
which was at his post, the commandant gave his orders, dwelling with emphasis on each word. A sailor
repeated his orders one by one, and all was silent. The Morse had already started on its mysterious voyage, but
was skimming along the surface until outside the port in order to avoid the numerous craft in the Arsenal. To
say that at this moment, which I had so keenly anticipated, I did not have the tremor which comes from
contact with the unknown would be beside the truth. On the other hand, calm and imperturbable, but keenly
curious as to this novel form of navigation, General André had already taken his place near the commandant
on a folding seat. There were no chairs in this long tube in which we were imprisoned. Everything was
arranged for the crew alone, with an eye to serious action. Moreover, the Minister of War was too tall to stand
upright beneath the iron ceiling, and in any case it would be impossible to walk about.
The only free space was a narrow passage, sixty centimetres broad, less than two metres high, and thirty
metres long, divided into three equal sections. In the first, in the forefront of the tube, reposed the torpedoes,
with the machine for launching them, which at a distance of from 500 to 600 metres were bound to sink, with
the present secret processes, the largest of ironclads. In the second section were the electric accumulators
which gave the light and power. In the third, near the screw, was the electric motor which transformed into
movement the current of the accumulators. Under all this, beneath the floor, from end to end, were immense
water ballasts, which were capable of being emptied or filled in a few seconds by electric machines, in order
to carry the vessel up or down. Finally, in the centre of the tube, dominating these three sections, which the
electric light inundated, and which no partition divided, the navigating lieutenant stood on the lookout giving
There was but one thing which could destroy in a second all the sources of authority, initiative, and
responsibility in this officer. That was the failure of the accumulators. Were the electricity to fail everything
would come to a stop. Darkness would overtake the boat and imprison it for ever in the water. To avoid any
such disaster there have been arranged, it is true, outside the tube and low down, a series of lead blades which
were capable of being removed from within to lighten the vessel. But admitting that the plunger would return
to the surface, the boat would float hither and thither, and at all events lose all its properties as a submarine
vessel. To avoid any such disaster a combination of motors have been in course of construction for some
months, so that the accumulators might be loaded afresh on the spot, in case of their being used up.
The Morse, after skimming along the surface of the water until outside the port, was now about to sink. The
commandant's place was no longer in the helmet or kiosque whence he could direct the route along the surface
of the sea. His place was henceforth in the very centre of the tube, in the midst of all sort of electric
manipulators, his eyes continually fixed on a mysterious optical apparatus, the periscope. The other extremity
of this instrument floated on the surface of the water, and whatever the depth of the plunge it gave him a
perfectly faithful and clear representation, as in a camera, of everything occurring on the water.
The most interesting moment of all now came. I hastened to the little opening to get the impression of total
immersion. The lieutenant by the marine chart verified the depths. The casks of water were filled and our
supply of air was thereby renewed from their stores of surplus air. In our tiny observatory, where General
André stationed himself above me, a most unexpected spectacle presented itself as the boat was immersed.
The plunge was so gentle that in the perfect silence of the waters one did not perceive the process of descent,
and there was only an instrument capable of indicating, by a needle, the depth to which the Morse was
penetrating. The vessel was advancing while at the same time it descended, but there was no sensation of
either advance or roll. As to respiration, it was as perfect as in any room. M. de Lanessan, who since entering
office has ordered eight more submarine vessels, had concerned himself with the question as a medical man
also, and, thanks to the labours of a commission formed by him, the difficulties of respiration were entirely
solved. The crew were able to remain under water sixteen hours without the slightest strain. Our excursion on
this occasion lasted scarcely two hours. Towards noon, by means of the mysterious periscope, which, always
invisible, floated on the surface and brought to the vessel below a reflection of all that passed up above, the
captain showed us the Narval, which had just emerged with its two flags near the old battery Impregnable.
From the depths in which we were sailing we watched its slightest manoeuvres until the admiral's flag,
waving on the top of a fort, reminded us that it was time to return.
[Illustration: The Submarine's Perfect Work.
Painting by John E. Whiting.]
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